by Larry Peery
I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised at the lack of references to the Diplomacy hobby’s Golden Age “sci-fi days” in the last issue of DW. After all, a lot of Golden Age “old-timers” from both Diplomacy and sci-fi are gone.
In his memory-jarring work “A Brief History of the US Diplomacy Hobby (1963-1992),” Jim Meinel devoted only one paragraph of three pages to those days. But just rereading that paragraph brought forty-plus-year-old memories back to me. Let me share some of those memories with you and, in doing so, add a few lines to Meinel’s history. More importantly, let me point out a new path, as we head toward the hobby’s half-century milestone.
Jim is certainly correct: the early Diplomacy hobby was a younger sibling of the far-larger sci-fi community, but not everyone involved in Diplomacy’s early days was a sci-fi fan. Still, if you were a fanatic about the game in the mid to late-1960s and living in southern California, you probably were touched by the sci-fi world, just as you were touched by the real world’s fascination as it watched the US prepare to put a man on the Moon – a goal John Kennedy had made a national priority. It was hard to draw a line between what was happening in the real world, the sci-fi world, and the new world of Diplomacy.
For me, 1966 was a fairly typical year. I met Conrad von Metzke and Rod Walker in a international relations class at San Diego State. Rod was an Air Force officer doing a grad degree. Conrad was the perennial student in his own Don Quixote search of…., and I was a brand new college freshman crashing an upper-division class I didn’t belong in. One day Conrad, who had the first copy of the GRI board game version of Diplomacy in California, brought the game in to class. It didn’t take long and we were hooked. Our mutual involvement in a series of Model United Nations events over the next few years solidified our solidarity and friendships. My personal interest in Diplomacy the game (and real world diplomacy) extends back that far. Today, two generations later, I take pride in watching friends and former students who have made the jump from a Diplomacy hobby to a diplomacy career.
At some point during that time period, Rod and I went up to Los Angeles to attend some kind of sci-fi or gaming convention being held at the Roosevelt Hotel (Yes, the first home of the Oscars!). That was an important event for several reasons. Somehow I got matched up in a debate with a relatively new sci-fi writer named Harlan Ellison. The topic was “Is there enough science in science fiction writing?” or something to that effect. I found out after the debate that the reason I was on the stage was because nobody who knew Harlan would debate him. I’m sure I lost the debate, but it was good practice for dealing with New York Dippers in later years.
Another important result of that event was my hosting a Diplomacy board game in my hotel suite. Yes, by some freaky accident, I had ended up with the penthouse suite in the hotel. It quickly became the informal game room for Dippers. During one of those casual games I met Jack Greene, Jr., of Quartermaster Games, who became my first real person contact with the Lafayette Tactics Association, a San Francisco Bay Area Dippers group.
Within weeks I was commuting regularly, by air, to the Bay Area for FTF Diplomacy events. I, and the rest of the San Diegan Diplomacy group, were amazed to discover a similar group existed in the Bay Area. If there was one, and then two, could there be more I wondered? One highlight of the event was a musical adaptation of a hot new TV series called Star Trek. Remember, this was Hollywood, and the production showed it. The crowd, including a number of the original Star Trek cast members, cheered at the end of the skit. I remember Nimoy, Nichols, and Takei were there. Shatner wasn’t. And I have no idea about Roddenberry.
Finally, on a personal note, it was at the Roosevelt Hotel that I had my first experience with a Sunday brunch and eggs benedict. I will never forget the sight of Zsa Zsa Gabor feeding her pet poodle(s) eggs benedict, and carefully wiping their faces with the hotel’s linen napkins.
Oh, and for years to come, I would always evaluate the food and beverage service when evaluating any DipCon I attended. Rod Walker was much more of a sci-fi fan than I, and during one of our trips to LA, we stopped by for a visit with Jerry Pournelle, who was then facing a real dilemma: keep his academically secure position as a teacher at Pepperdine U, or give that up and devote himself full-time to his much more financially profitable
career as a sci-fi writer. The Uni couldn’t stand the idea of one of their academics moonlighting as a sci-fi writer. Bravo for Jerry, he made the decision to go for the bucks!
I didn’t know Monte Zelazny well, although we did play in a postal game or two together, and I think we exchanged magazines for a while. By today’s standards that would probably be a big deal, but in those days it was just a common courtesy among publishers to exchange magazines, etc. I mentioned the LTA and the lively Dip scene in the San Francisco Bay Area. Most of the LTA members were students at Cal Berkeley. You have to realize that during this period there was a growing opposition to the Vietnam War, and much of that opposition was centered at Berkeley. On the other hand, you have to realize that Cal, as it was known, was one of the nation’s premier intellectual academic centers. Like the song said, “If you can make it at Cal, you can make it anywhere.” Only at Cal Berkeley could you have had Alexander Kerensky (the last premier of the pre-communist Russian parliament) and Prince Yusupov (who murdered Rasputin) sharing offices in the same building for years without ever meeting (as best we can tell). The LTA Dippers weren’t as into sci-fi as most Dippers, although they all seemed to have read it, knew the created worlds, and could come up with a sci-fi variant on demand.
One weekend while I was visiting Brian Bailey – one of the most active LTA members – I was informed we were going to put on a demonstration game for a couple of people who were interested in watching, but not playing, a game of Dip. I thought that was kind of strange, but why not? So a group of us including Bailey, Charles Turner, James Dygert, and others piled into Bailey’s MG and Turner’s Morris and drove up into the Berkeley Hills. I don’t remember much about the people watching the game; they mostly stood back and just watched. I do remember the house we were playing in vividly. It was
pearched on the side of the hill with a balcony that drifted off into deep space high above the Bay. Since I was one of the first to be eliminated in the game (see, there are some constants in Diplomacy!), I got a chance to answer a few questions from our observers, sample the snacks, and wait for the house to slide off the hill. The game ended in a multi-way draw after a few hours, and we were on our way home. Only then did my friends tell me that among the observers were two named Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury. And no doubt they were wondering why I had never brought up the subject of scifi. Oh well….
All the activity wasn’t in California, of course. There were lots of sci-fi fans elsewhere in the growing Diplomacy hobby. Lew Pulsipher was waiting in the wings to launch his long and illustrious career as a Dip variant designer, many of them devoted to sci-fi themed games. Don Miller, that great collector and organizer of early hobby paper, was also a sci-fi fan who dabbled in creating a wide variety of games that pushed the variant design into new and uncharted realms.
I suppose, since I have to end somewhere at some point, I should do it in 1969, barely three years after the Diplomacy Golden Age’s Sci-Fi birth. Three things happened in 1969 that would have a profound impact on the future of Diplomacy and of sci-fi. First, Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon. Second, Star Trek ended its short reign as a cult TV series. Reality had surpassed fiction! And third, Gary Gygax attended the 2nd GenCon. Another star was about to be born. On a more personal note, 1969 was memorable for me for two reasons: I had my first hard alcoholic drink and I lost my virginity (not at the same time). But we don’t want to go there, do we?
The late 1960s were a great time for the Diplomacy hobby because we dared to dream and to act, just as was happening in the real world. Now, fifty years later, I hope another great time is ahead for the Diplomacy hobby. It is time for a new dream and new actions. The ways and means are there, new leaders stand at the podium. Now, who will sound the call to arms? For eight long years our hobby has suffered in silence as the horrors of real world diplomacy engulfed us. But now, thanx to Doug Kent and his associates, we have created something truly wonderful, an online Diplomacy library that ancient Alexandria would have been proud of. It is time to put it to use. The new sci-fi made real technology has brought us a new opportunity. It’s up to
us how we will use it.
Reprinted from Diplomacy World 104.